Long-Bailey sacked by Starmer in anti-Semitism row

The shadow education secretary was asked to step down after sharing an article containing an allegedly anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Rebecca Long-Bailey
Rebecca Long-Bailey

Rebecca Long-Bailey has been dramatically sacked from the Labour shadow cabinet after sharing an article containing an allegedly anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer took action after Ms Long-Bailey tweeted a link to an interview with the actress Maxine Peake in which she claimed police linked to the death of George Floyd in the US had learned their tactics from the Israeli secret services.

Jewish groups praised Sir Keir for his swift action in removing the shadow education secretary – a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn.

However, left-wing supporters of the former leader – including former shadow chancellor John McDonnell – rallied behind Ms Long-Bailey, insisting she had done nothing wrong.

Labour
Sir Keir Starmer said he wants to rebuild trust with the Jewish community (Aaron Chown/PA)

Sir Keir said his “primary objective” was to rebuild trust with the Jewish community after years in which Labour has been embroiled in allegations of anti-Semitism under Mr Corbyn.

“I do not consider sharing that article furthered the cause of rebuilding trust with the Jewish community and that’s why I stood Rebecca Long-Bailey down,” he said.

“I didn’t do that because she is anti-Semitic, I did it because she shared the article which has got – in my view – anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in it.”

Sir Keir’s action will be seen as a further sign of his willingness to take on the Corbynista left, getting rid of its most prominent member still on the Labour frontbench.

Ms Long-Bailey originally tweeted a link to the interview with Ms Peake on Thursday morning, describing her as “an absolute diamond”.

She later tweeted a “clarification” in which she said she had shared the article because of the actress’s “significant achievements” and her support for Labour.

She added: “It wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the article.”

However, shortly after 3pm, a spokesman for Sir Keir announced he had asked her to stand down.

Following her dismissal, Ms Long-Bailey said that although the wording of her clarification had been agreed with the leader’s office, she had subsequently been instructed to take down both it and the original tweet.

“I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification,” she said.

“I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed Sir Keir’s “swift” action.

Board president Marie van der Zyl said: “After Rebecca Long-Bailey shared a conspiracy theory, we and others gave her the opportunity to retract and apologise.

“To our surprise and dismay, her response was pathetic. Her position as shadow education secretary was therefore untenable.”

Senior Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who is Jewish and a fierce critic of Mr Corbyn, said: “This is what a change in culture looks like. This is what zero tolerance looks like. This is what rebuilding trust with the Jewish community looks like.”

However, there was an angry response from key allies of the former leader on the Labour left.

Mr McDonnell tweeted: “Throughout discussion of anti-Semitism it’s always been said criticism of (the) practices of (the) Israeli state is not anti-Semitic.

“I don’t believe therefore that this article is or (that) Rebecca Long-Bailey should’ve been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her.”

Jon Lansman, who founded the grassroots activist movement Momentum, said there was nothing in Ms Peake’s interview which a Labour anti-Semitism panel would view as anti-Semitic.

“Rebecca is every bit as committed to ending anti-Semitism in the Labour Party as I am,” he said.

“Her sacking is a reckless over-reaction from someone who promised to end factionalism in the party and political interference in disciplinary matters. Keir has now made these tasks harder.”

Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey tweeted the sacking of Ms Long-Bailey was “an unnecessary over-reaction to a confected row. Unity is too important to be risked like this.”

Peake said she wanted to clarify her comments in the interview that was shared by Ms Long-Bailey.

In a Twitter post, Peake said she was “inaccurate in her assumption” of US police training.

She said: “I feel it’s important for me to clarify that, when talking to The Independent, I was inaccurate in my assumption of American Police training & its sources.

“I find racism & anti-Semitism abhorrent & I in no way wished, nor intended, to add fodder to any views of the contrary.”

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